11 June 2009

Advertising is dead. Long live Advertising!

The first extension I put on Firefox is Adblock Plus.

I have been using ad-filtering software for years; the way the Internet normally appears to me is very different than the way it appears for most people. After using this software, Facebook and MySpace are no longer billboard-clotted roadways; they're smooth ad-free sailing.

The only ads that get through are ones for small companies - independent publishers, music companies, and the like. These I do not mind - they're rarely as annoying and they support alternative products, music, and books. I was genuinely surprised when my wife ordered something from a Facebook ad - I didn't think anyone actually looked at them.

While Affluenza talks more about television commercials, that model does not apply to me. Much of the advertising that I am exposed to is through other mechanisms: billboards, product placement, and the like. To deal with the advertisements, I have developed the skills to see through the empty exuberance, and search for actual content. I am a savvy - and extremely skeptical - viewer of advertisements.

This doesn't help with my son.

When The Spiderwick Chronicles came out, my son begged for a particular lunch pack that had a character from the movie on it. It took nearly a half hour to convince him that there was nothing better about that particular brand. It cost nearly a dollar more - and was a selection that he didn't like! Yet the simple image, the flash-bang-oooh reflex was enough to woo him.
I was once like that. I was especially prone to it with music; I would easily buy two or three CDs (tapes, whatever) every time I went into a music store. The album art or band name - or the de facto "advertisement" of playing a single on the radio - was enough to lure me into purchasing the entire album.

For a little while.

As my son would have learned with the lunch pack - and has been reminded since with other products - advertisements are inherently lies. They have a specific agenda - and the consumer only enters into that agenda in order to purchase the item.

As advertisers continue to make more and more extreme and intrusive claims in order to win our purchasing power, they become more and more unable to deliver. Now, I'm more apt to be affected by recommendations from independent, trusted sources - like Kevin Kelly's Cool Tools, or honest reviews of products. When friends recommend a band - or I can hear more of their music on last.fm or other websites - I'm more likely to make that purchase.

As advertisements have become more extreme, their message has been taken less and less seriously. Perhaps soon, advertisements will collapse under their own unsupported edifice, and we can start recognizing true value once again.

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